April 20, 2015
When I was born, my name was Orianna Blossom.
The story goes that Terri, my mom, excited about her first born, called her father from the hospital soon after I arrived. “We have a beautiful baby girl,” my mom exclaimed, “and her name is Orianna Blossom.”
“Terri,” my grandfather directly responded, “It sounds like the name of a ugly animal.”
I have thanked my grandfather on a number of occasions for his timely intervention.
My mom decided instead to go with the more popular name, Crystal, for her first daughter. But as one who found great solace in nature, and not one to give up entirely on her desire for uniqueness, she asked my dad to pick between Ocean, Dawn, and Sunshine for a middle name.
And thus I was dubbed “Crystal Sunshine.”
(The shortened version of the story goes something like this: “My mom was a bit of a hippy.”)
The word “shy” may have been created to describe the child version of my personality. I was nervous as a young person, most things left me feeling a bit anxious, but I kept it all inside, closed myself in. Scared of adventure and most things exciting, apprehensive of anything that would draw attention to myself, I wanted to blend in and disappear in almost every situation. My middle name tended to draw reactions from people, forcing me to stand out, and thus I hated it and revealed it to no one.
In elementary school, I had one, great friend. DeAnne was her name, and we were quite a pair– inseparable really. She gave me the courage to enjoy things, to try new things, to play. We would bring our Barbies to school, DeAnne and I, and hide out on the far end of the playground, completely entertained by a world of our own making.
In sixth grade, I started to feel the need to branch out, to be noticed, to be accepted. I became friends with a few of the popular kids. A bit slow to social cues, I was dubbed the “airhead” who didn’t get a lot of jokes– but the nickname was mostly in love and I craved the attention so much that I accepted it nonchalantly.
My new friends loved my middle name. They gave me the courage to fully embrace myself as “Crystal Sunshine.” Because they loved it, I started to love it too. And I bubbled up into it, feeling free to be silly and joyful and delighted. Both ever so sudden, and ever so slowly, it began to describe me.
But, I left DeAnne in the dust that year. In front of all my new friends I told her I didn’t want anything to do with her, called her names, hurt her deeply. I was ashamed of the person I had been up to that point, desperately wanting to be someone else; desperately wanting the approval of my peers. And publicly humiliating my best friend seemed to be the only way to do that.
Childhood can be cruel.
I moved across the country in 8th grade. New school, new accent, new friends, new start. I was simultaneously devastated and excited. Devastated to leave my friends who had become my world, excited to prove myself to new friends as the person I liked to be. I wanted to be Crystal Sunshine– but not the air-headed pet version I felt I had become in my little junior high circle.
Rather unexpectedly, I decided to become a Christian later that year. More accurately, I should say God pursued me until I could no longer say no. And in the spring of my 8th grade year, I knew that my life could not make sense without him.
As I grew in love and acceptance at The Little Church Where God Found Me, I began to exude joy and happiness. Always laughing, always smiling, always singing. It was noticeable and distinct. In fact, a classmate sheepishly told me that before we were friends, another friend had asked her if she was happy and her response was “Well, I’m happy… but NOT Crystal Sunshine happy.”
Those in My Little Church Where God Found Me noticed too. As I made my way through high school they would often make comments about what they saw, saying how evident it was that the Holy Spirit’s joy was in me. And it was. ”Your name is prophetic,” They said. “Crystal Sunshine– God gave you that name.” God had literally turned my life upside down and I was a new person. I thought differently and talked differently.
At one point I wrote my one great childhood friend DeAnne an apology letter and mailed it to her across the country. She didn’t respond.
I used to be very confused by the frequency of strong, Christian (often charismatic) leaders who would build life changing ministries, and 2 or 10 or 17 years later, fall flat on their face. Typically “falling flat” meant either denouncing their faith entirely or engaging in some type of extreme behavior that would clearly communicate to those who had previously been encouraged by them to seek solace elsewhere. Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard– even Jim Jones the famous kool-aid drinking cult leader started out as a Pentecostal preacher. There were some closer to home as well: the pastor of the church I went to in college who allegedly left his gorgeous wife and their two kids for alcohol and drugs; the pastor of my parent’s small church who decided that he really just wanted to sell life insurance.
How is it possible, I would think, that these people whom God had obviously called, blessed, anointed, worked miracles through, could fall so hard and so far? If God anointed them why didn’t he preserve them? And if they walked in his power, how could they turn their backs on that, on him?
I couldn’t fathom.
In the joy that transpired through redemption, I’d become adventurous too. But a curious thing began happening– I would go back and forth sometimes. At times I would retreat into the observant shy person I had been as a child. And then I would bounce back into the joyful Sunshine version, because I usually liked myself better when I was joyful.
When I was 19, I moved to Cambodia for 5 months. When I was 20, I moved to the Philippines for two years. Both times I was working with missionaries. In the Philippines, life was hard. I didn’t have Christians wrapped around me, encouraging me and praying for me. I was involved in ministry, but I prayed much less than I had before. I was the girl who had built my self-esteem entirely on the responsibility I had been given in The Little Church Where God Found Me– but my boss in the Philippines didn’t want me to be a leader, didn’t want me to do anything really, except live there, play with kids and pay rent.
I started to get lonely. And I didn’t know what else to place my worth in, if I wasn’t leading. If I wasn’t a super-Christian, what was I, really? I felt like my soul had become handicapped and I didn’t know how to like myself without the responsibility and affirmation of being in leadership. I decided the least I could do was go home thinner, and have something to show for my time living in the developing world, but food was such a comfort to my hurting heart, I found it impossible to limit myself. And that was the beginning of my struggle with bulimia. And more importantly, debilitating shame.
I didn’t know how to fix myself. None of my Christian formulas seemed to work. I prayed, I cried, I scolded myself, but the beast of shame and the unhealthy patterns continued. I entered a Deeper Than Devastating Place. I decided I would try fasting, so for an entire week I drank nothing but water, hoping upon hope that God would hear my prayer and cure me of my eating disorder. I’d grown up in The Little Church Where God Found Me to believe that God can and would preform miracles if we asked. And I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t give me a miracle. Wasn’t I the girl who spent her 21st birthday celebrating with Filipino children instead of at a bar? My brother had unceremoniously told me I was “wasting my best years” in the Philippines– wasn’t that worth a miracle?
Sometimes events occur that we cannot process. They completely contradict our deepest understanding of truth and are unlike anything we have experienced up to that point in life. We cannot file those experiences into our overarching view of what the world is, because they do not fit. We must wrestle with them and either change our view of the world, or throw out the experience entirely.
When I was in my Deeper Than Devastating Place in the Philippines a couple of things occurred that I could not process.
The first instance occurred when a pastor asked if anyone wanted prayer. I sat in my seat, lifting up a desperate plea to God: “If you care about me God, let this pastor know that I have sinned. Tell him to tell me that I need to repent and get right. Tell him I am not worthy to be here, serving you.”
I needed a way out of my sin. I knew I couldn’t do it. I’d tried everything I knew, and nothing worked. I’d never told a soul about my struggle, so I reasoned if God could communicate he knew through this pastor, that would be enough to help me get better. It was illogical reasoning, obviously… but whoever reasons logically when they are in the Deeper Than Devastating Place.
I walked to the front of the little chapel for prayer and stood in front of a crumbling cement pillar. I lifted my hands and closed my eyes and waiting for the pastor to come near me. But the words he spoke where drastically different from the words I had anticipated.
God wants you to know how precious you are to him. God wants you to know that you are worthy of love. He loves you very much and He is very proud of you.
But I didn’t understand.
I was bitter.
It must have been a mistake.
The second instance occurred as I was giving a tour of the children’s home I worked at to a visiting pastor. “My name is Crystal,” I told him, “Crystal Sunshine.” He stopped in his tracks and clarified– “Crystal Sunshine?” “Yeah,” I laughed, dismissively, “my mom was a bit of a hippy.” He continued to stare at me, and I rounded back to where he stood, halted from our walk around the grounds. “That’s prophetic,” he said, searching my eyes, willing me to understand the gravity of his words.
“People have told me that” I say, laughing again, avoiding eye contact, but agreeing so we can move on with our tour.
Inside, my soul was seething at his words. How dare he, I thought. How dare he tell me my name is prophetic when the shame of my sin is eating me alive. I could not process this statement, so I tried to alter it to make room. I decided that he either just thinks he’s hearing from God (but clearly is not), or people have been saying this statement based on outside observations only, and it had nothing to do with my heart and destiny, like I had previously thought.
I was just good at faking it, I decided. Pastors and pray-ers who told me that my mom and dad naming me Crystal Sunshine were obviously just observing that I smile a lot. And so, I continued to use that smile to cover over my shame, and reserved my prayers for freedom from sin for my time alone.
I left the Philippines and moved to Texas when I was 22. I told myself that I’d better go to counseling and figure out how to fix myself in the first semester. I reasoned that I would have too much shame to participate in the christian conference in the spring, so I went to counseling fully expecting them to cure me in a couple of weeks.
Ten years later, I still see a counselor on a regular basis.
I’ve grown a lot since my early 20′s and made a lot of progress in this game called life. I’ve learned that God is not a God of shame and that healing (sanctification for my theology friends) is a life long continual process. I’ve learned that it’s ok– and even necessary– to be honest about your struggles with people you trust. Also, that God loves me deeply and to the core– even when I cannot be perfect (which is never, by the way). I’ve also learned that God doesn’t reward good behavior with miracles and that happiness is not a requirement of being a follower of God.
Another thing that I’ve learned is not to fault people for what they see in me… even if it doesn’t match what I believe to be true.
About five years ago I went to the International House of Prayer with some friends who really wanted to go. I wanted to hang out with my friends. I didn’t care too much about the prayer house, but figured a little prayer never hurt anyone.
We walked into the prayer room where the people with the gift of “prophecy” encourage anyone who wishes to hear from God. “What is your name?” they said. “Crystal.” “God gave you that name,” they replied. ”So I’ve been told,” I said, with a dismissive laugh. “Her middle name is Sunshine,” my friend remarked.
But what she said next blew me away.
You are like a prism. A prism is made of Crystal that has been cut a particular way. The sunlight shines through that Crystal and radiates colors in rainbows on the other side. The Crystal is neither producing the sunlight or the rainbows, it is merely providing a means for the sunlight to be magnified and seen more clearly.
God is the sunlight and you are the window that allows his light to be seen more clearly.
And just like that, my name truly fit.